Which Americans would you think would consume the healthiest diet? Chances are you’re going to be surprised by some of the news.
A new study out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion used the Healthy Eating Index-2005, which is a measure of diet quality based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to analyze the quality of the American diet. The researchers in this study analyzed the responses from 8,272 Americans on what they ate during the course of one day. This group included 3,286 children between the ages of 2-17, 3,690 young and middle-aged adults between the ages of 18-64 and 1,296 older adults who were 65 years old and above.
So how is the index used to rate a person’s diet? This tool provides points based on the quantity of recommended foods that are eaten as a percent of calories or per 1,000 calories. For example, a person could get a maximum of five points for eating at least .8 cup equivalents per 1,000 calories of fruit (including 100 percent juice). However, a person who didn’t consume any fruit would get a zero. The index includes similar scales for whole fruit (but not juice), total vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables and legumes, total grains, milk, meat and beans and oils. The index also takes into account consumption of saturated fat, sodium, solid fats, alcoholic beverages and added sugars. Needless to say, the index gives higher scores for the last group of foods when they are a small part of an American’s diet. For instance, a person will be awarded 10 points if their diet has less than 0.7 grams of sodium per 1,000 calories.
So what did the researchers’ analysis find? Here goes:
- The elderly tend to eat a healthier diet. The analysis of the diet using the index found that seniors had a score of 65. Children and adults between the ages of 18-64 each scored 56. However, no group ate a diet that, when analyzed, was even near the index’s perfect score of 100.
- Hispanics also were found to consume a more nutritious diet than whites and African Americans.
- Hispanic children’s diets actually were close to the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables compared to white children.
- Hispanic children’s diets also were nearer the recommended amount of fruit compared to African American children.
- Children who are growing up in poor families met more of the USDA’s recommendations in several food groups than wealthy children. The researchers hypothesized that this finding may be due to the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs that are available to children of low-income families.
- Adults who had higher incomes tended to meet more of the USDA recommendations than those with lower incomes.
So if this news makes you want to improve your eating habits, where can you go for help? I’d suggest two places. The first is the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov. This website provides information on the five food groups as well as oils, weight management and calories, physical activity and healthy eating tips. It also offers a SuperTracker that can help you plan, analyze and track your diet as well as your physical activity. You also can find daily food plans, a calories count chart for mixed dishes, a calculator to determine empty calories eaten, a body mass index (BMI) calculator, a solid fats chart and information on reading food labels.